LEXINGTON, KY – After making a dull 3-year-old debut last out in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), Gatsas Stables and R A Hill Stable’s Vekoma rebounded beautifully with an impressive victory in Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.
Breaking from post 2 under Javier Castellano as the 7/5 favorite, Vekoma within a length of early leader Somelikeithotbrown through opening fractions of :23.26, :47.03, and 1:11.55. Tipping off the rail in the far turn, Vekoma vroomed past the pacesetter and drew away sharply in the stretch run home, turning the 14-horse event into a laugher at the end. The George Weaver trainee crossed with a 3 1/2-length advantage in a final time of 1:50.93 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track.
“I like the way he broke out of the gate,” Castellano said. “In the first turn, I realized I didn’t want to dictate the pace. I tried to ride a smart race. I didn’t want to be too aggressive early; you have to save something for the end. I liked the way he rated the first 1/4-mile, and I liked the way he finished. Every time I asked him, he kicked on a little bit.”
The Blue Grass is part of the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Vekoma earned 100 points for the win, with Win Win Win receiving 40 for second, Signalman 20 for third, and Somelikeithotbrown 10 for fourth.
After getting bumped at the start and being forced to ride at the rear, Win Win Win had to steady at the 5/16 pole but still came running strongly with a flourish under Irad Ortiz, Jr., to get up for second by a nose over Signalman.
“I didn’t win today, but I am so proud of this horse,” said Ortiz, Jr. “He ran a great race. I got into a little traffic early, and when I finally got him clear, I asked him to run, and he started to really turn it on. I think he can keep improving for the Derby. He’s a really nice horse.”
Signalman’s effort came in his second start since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) last fall. After making his bid near the 1/4 pole, he fell flat and ultimately lost second late under Brian Hernandez, Jr.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to work out some really good trips today,” said Hernandez, Jr. “Hopefully, it’s all a building block on the first Saturday in May. It looks like we have enough points now to get in, so we’re excited about it. The Lewises (co-owners) are really excited since this will be their first Derby, and it looks like we’re going in there with a live horse. This will be his third race already in his 3-year-old career, so you’ve gotta be excited.”
After leading throughout most of the race, Somelikeithotbrown faded to fourth but still showed enough to his connections in his first start over dirt since his debut effort at Saratoga last July was rained off the turf.
“That’s his running style,” said trainer Mike Maker. “He was fourth-best today. It’s that simple. He handled the dirt well.”
The rest of the field was well spread out behind the top four. Chess Chief took fifth over So Alive, with Sir Winston taking seventh ahead of Admire and Moonster. Completing the order of finish came Lucky Lee, Market King, Aquadini, Dream Maker, and Parsimony.
Vekoma’s win was his second in a graded race, having won the Nashua Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on November 4, and improved his overall record to 4-3-0-1. The 3-year-old son of Candy Ride increased his lifetime earnings mark to $788,850.
“He’s so talented and he’s done things in the morning,” Weaver said. “I’ve really never had a colt like this in all the time I’ve trained. Nothing would surprise me. If he comes out of it well, we’ll go to Louisville and see what happens. I’m pretty tore up. I’m excited. I grew up in Kentucky and came to the Blue Grass when I was a kid, every year. Winning this race is very special.”
Vekoma returned $4.80 to win, $3.20 to place, and $2.60 to show. Win Win Win brought back $4 to place and $3.20 to show, while Signalman paid $3.60 to show.